The historic State Opening traditions from Black Rod to King's Speech
The historic State Opening traditions from Black Rod to the King’s Speech – and what they mean
- All you need to know about different State Opening of Parliament traditions
- King’s Speech LIVE: King Charles will deliver his first State Opening of Parliament as monarch from 11am today
King Charles III will open Parliament as the reigning monarch for the first time today in the traditional State Opening ceremony.
It signifies a new session for Parliament in 2023-24, after its usual recess break over the summer.
But what are some of the historic traditions involved in the State Opening of Parliament and why do they exist?
Read on below for all you need to know about the event, from the reason an MP will be taken hostage to the King’s speech.
The King’s Bodyguard, the Yeomen of the Guard, exit a coach as they arrive at the Palace of Westminster ahead of the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords, London
State Opening of Parliament traditions
Searching the cellars in the Palace of Westminster
On the day of Parliament’s official State Opening ceremony, the cellars of the Palace of Westminster are searched by the Yeomen of the Guard – the monarch’s own bodyguards and the oldest existing British military unit.
This tradition dates back to 1605, when it was first carried out after a failed attempt led by English Catholics, including Guy Fawkes, to assassinate the protestant monarch James I by blowing up the Houses of Parliament.
Delivering of the ‘hostage’
The MP to be kidnapped this year by the monarch as part of the ancient tradition is Jo Churchill, who has held the post of Vice-Chamberlain of the Household since September 2022
The reason behind this unusual occurrence is to do with the separation of powers in the UK between the monarchy and the government.
Despite the monarchy not involving itself with the UK’s legislature, this has not always been the case.
In 1629, King Charles I did not allow Parliament to meet and bolted the doors to the chambers shut.
For 11 years, Parliament was not permitted to meet during the period that subsequently became known as the ‘Eleven years Tyranny.’
When Parliament did reconvene after over a decade of being absent, Charles I entered the House of Commons in an attempt to arrest five MPs.
However, his attempted exploits did not go to plan and, following the English Civil War, he was found guilty of treason and executed in Whitehall on January 30 1649.
From that day forward, the monarch has entered the Houses of Parliament only on the condition that an active MP is taken as a hostage.
Theoretically, it means that, should something happen to the monarch whilst she is in Parliament, the hostage would meet the same fate.
Black Rod and summoning the House of Commons
Black Rod is the name given to the House of Lords official, who is sent to summon the Commons for the ceremony. The role has been held by Sarah Clarke (pictured) since February 2018, making her the first female Black Rod in the 650-year existence of the role.
Black Rod is the name given to the House of Lords official, who is sent to summon the Commons for the ceremony.
The role has been held by Sarah Clarke since February 2018, making her the first female Black Rod in the 650-year existence of the role.
The doors to the Commons chamber will be shut in the king’s face, in a practice dating back to the Civil War, to symbolise the Commons’ independence from the monarchy.
Black Rod will subsequently strike the door three times before it is opened.
Members of the House of Commons will follow Black Rod and the Commons Speaker to the Lords chamber, standing at the opposite end to the throne, known as the Bar of the House, to listen to the speech, which is expected to begin after Charles is seated on the throne around 11:30am.
The King’s speech
King Charles III will open Parliament as the reigning monarch for the first time today in the traditional State Opening ceremony. Pictured: Charles at the State Opening of Parliament in May 2022
Despite its name suggesting it is prepared by the government, the King’s speech is actually written by the government, with its length depending on the number of proposed laws and other announcements – such as foreign-policy objectives – but normally lasts for around 10 minutes.
Beyond any words about his mother, the King’s speech will contain a summary of government policies and proposed legislation for the new parliamentary session.
Topics included in the speech could include the phased smoking ban, announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at this year’s Conservative Party conference, as well as the phasing out of some leaseholds.
Housing minister Rachel Maclean has already confirmed that a bill to phase out selected leaseholds in England and Wales will feature, which could change the standard lease extension from 90 to 990 years for new houses, per the BBC.
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